Keeping great apes, elephants and other animals in captivity shows society’s lack of humanity, said Senator Murray Sinclair, who has teamed up with primatologist Jane Goodall to propose legislation banning the practice.
The proposed bill, called the Jane Goodall Act, would ban new captivity of great apes and elephants unless considered for their best interests, such as welfare and conservation or nonharmful scientific research. It would ban using great apes and elephants in performances, including elephant rides.
The legislation proposes establishing legal standing for great apes, elephants, whales and dolphins in sentencing for captivity offences, allowing court orders for relocation or improved conditions. And it would strengthen the ban on the import of elephant ivory and ban importing hunting “trophies.”
Mr. Sinclair said zoos that currently hold these animals would be permitted to keep them, but could not import more, if the bill became law. He said the legislation is meant to protect great apes and elephants but there is an opportunity to add other animals to the list, such as tigers and lions.
“From strictly a humanistic perspective, I think it speaks very badly of us as a human species that we allow ourselves to do this to other sentient beings … this speaks to our lack of humanity, our lack of consideration of respect for other creatures with whom we are sharing this universe,” Mr. Sinclair told The Globe and Mail in an interview.
Earlier Tuesday at a news conference with Dr. Goodall, Mr. Sinclair said the bill would establish some of the strongest animal protection laws in the world.
He said the bill is named in Dr. Goodall’s honour, calling her a hero to animals, rights advocates and also to his grandchildren. He said it builds on a law passed last year that phases out whale and dolphin captivity.
Mr. Sinclair said given the discussions he’s had with senators, he believes there is “very broad” support for his bill. However, he acknowledged the hurdles he faced while pushing the dolphin and whale captivity bill through the Senate. That bill was first introduced in 2015, and after some procedural wrangling by some Conservative senators and years of debate, it finally passed in 2019.
Mr. Sinclair said in Canada, there are 33 great apes in captivity, including nine chimpanzees, 18 gorillas and six orangutans. He said the orangutans will not have access to the outdoors until at least next year and one, born in the wild, has lived inside since the exhibit opened in 1974. He said there are more than 20 elephants in Canada, including one that lives alone in Edmonton, despite elephants being social creatures.
“The bill is not at odds with all zoos,” he added, saying some zoos are potential partners for establishing legal protections for captive animals.
Jim Facette, executive director of Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums, which represents 29 members, told The Canadian Press in an interview that the accreditation system holds members to high standards of animal welfare. He said many members have conservation programs and he is proud of that work.
“I would hope that any legislation wouldn’t impede that going forward and recognize the accreditation that already exists for zoos and aquariums in Canada,” he said.
While Canada already restricts importing elephant ivory, the proposed law would strengthen regulations by imposing a stricter ban. Mr. Sinclair said between 2007 and 2016, Canada allowed the import of over 400 elephant skulls and 260 elephant feet and this bill would prohibit those imports.
“Some people torture animals. It’s because they don’t understand. Other people deliberately choose not to understand how [animals] feel pain and fear and distress," said Dr. Goodall, adding that a lot of education is needed.
Dr. Goodall said it was an honour that the bill has been named after her, saying she has wanted to help animals since she was a small child, rescuing every worm she saw on the pavement.
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